“Most people do not recognize that, at least in rich nations, economic growth is the disease, not the cure.” – Paul Ehrlich
A wise species would spend far more time and energy trying to stop human overpopulation than cleaning up its endless symptoms with planning commissions, biologists, catalytic converters and medical disinfectants. We’d be in much better shape if the main driver of wilderness destruction, pollution and new contagions was itself contained. This has been discussed for decades and seems like a lost cause but it’s worth repeating amid extreme measures to stop a virus that barely registers on the scale of species annihilation, including human wars & famines. It also applies to climate warnings that treat CO2 as a tangential byproduct we must vanquish to maintain economic growth while pretending the scale of fossil fuels can be replaced. It’s a mental illness when people flail around reacting to side-effects while treating root causes as inevitable and desirable. “We need more economic growth!” say the politicians & business leaders, but we really need frugality, self-control, and more thinking, not tinkering in this over-engineered world.
The acronym COVID could also stand for Chinese Overpopulation Virus Disease. Around 1978 the Chinese government allowed wildlife to be farmed as a means to curb hunger among its 950+ million people, and in 1989 they further loosened restrictions on endangered species protections, calling it the Wildlife Protection Law (typical growthist apologia). Today, China has over 1.4 billion people and constantly boasts of economic growth, meaning more people, more consumption, more pollution and more heinous food sources. It’s considered racist to call SARS-CoV-2 the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” but it’s a highly accurate description of the origin. People should not be eating pangolins, bats, or shark fin soup. It’s disgusting and unnatural, just like the mindless overpopulation that spawned such desperation.
The Internet also has physical limits to growth and its infrastructure can’t be endlessly expanded or supplied with adequate power. Data centers use a lot of electricity and water, and companies have been throttling bandwidth to accommodate more users working or video-conferencing from home. A lot of bandwidth is also used for arguably frivolous social media sites, plus spam. The impact of COVID-19 sheltering could be a preview of future overload as more people are connected, including a big increase in space junk if low-orbit Internet satellites get fully deployed. People need to know that the world is a physical place, not a spreadsheet with endless rows to add.
Reactions to any mention of population overshoot range from “How dare you say that about our Godly species?” to “It’s just a matter of inequitable food distribution” (treating hunger as the sole issue) to “Go kill yourself and lighten the load!” Few of those people bother to give counter-evidence, and are stuck on religious dogma, naive leftism or business greed. Another aspect of overpopulation-denial is ignorance of land-use and the scale of food production, physical infrastructure and energy sprawl. Those people claim there’s still “plenty of land” to fill up with farms, homes, roads, factories and wind turbines. They either won’t do the math or show little concern for what Man has already smothered. Acolytes of the late Julian Simon claim that human ingenuity can overcome physical limits, and see the Earth as not truly finite. They never prove it but they don’t care to because they view it as “optimism.” All that matters is attitude when you’re selling growth bubbles.
A big topic in mid-April 2020 was reopening economies after oppressive shelter-in-place restrictions and social-distancing. It’s understandable to want our freedoms back but the very economies we “need” to restart have been destroying nature for too long already. Scientists and laymen noticed less air & water pollution, roadkill, noise and other environmental impacts during coronavirus lock-downs. It gave a temporary glimpse of what the world might look like if we got serious about saving the planet vs. maintaining stock prices and compound interest. That wouldn’t mean building more “clean energy” sprawl, rather, scaling down human activity and limiting future births with government incentives and personal accountability. Nobody has an individual right to crowd the world to death, and all behaviors add up.
Stalling the global economy for COVID-19 has also revealed the truth of non-essential jobs and general economic bloat. Restaurants are a luxury unless your only food source is a cafe in the desert. For better or worse, film and music industries replaced people making their own entertainment. Energy-intensive sporting events are essentially showboating, with millionaires mimicking old hunting and war tactics. Other species put their energy into direct survival with little impact on their surroundings. Bears, moose, eagles and whales don’t need job-creation schemes, money or debt. People should question the true value of “passion jobs” enabled by fossil fuels, and interdependent (skilled and unskilled) professions that fall like dominoes in survival mode. Many of the highest paying jobs are non-vital, which says a lot about money itself. People seem to understand this when viewing apocalyptic dramas, but they lapse back into modern normalcy. When shale oil & gas production peaks (likely this decade) COVID-19 may be recalled as a mild economic preview.
This isn’t a call for returning to crude ancestral living, but we clearly ought to reduce wasteful labor-redundancy and ditch growthist ideology that seeks “More, more, MORE!” as it wrecks nature 24/7. People have been the main invasive species for centuries and should permanently back off to let the planet recover, just as we’re trying to recover from this virus.
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